Online Sports Psychology Master’s Degree Programs

“Get your head in the game” is a common statement made to athletes in a challenging competition. More than just an adage, the statement shows the importance of psychology in making athletes successful.

Today’s coaches must know more than just plays and exercises. They must also know how to motivate their players to achieve their best. That knowledge comes from psychology. If you are a coach or counselor working with athletes, a sports psychology masters program can help you learn the skills you need to motivate your athletes to perform even better than they already do. 

Online sports psychology master’s degrees provide flexibility as you earn your degree even while continuing to work. This guide will discuss what sports psychology is, how to earn your master’s degree and what the best online programs are for students interested in this course of study.

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Sports Psychology Masters Program Overview

Successful athletes must achieve both physical strength and mental strength. While there is a tremendous amount of physical endurance necessary to succeed in sports, athletics is also highly mental. Mental blocks can prevent a skilled athlete from excelling, and no amount of exercise alone will overcome that. Sports psychology addresses this mental aspect of sports.

A master’s degree in sports psychology provides graduate-level training in this aspect of coaching and counseling. With a sports psychology masters program, a student can learn how to train athletes to build confidence and discipline while overcoming the mental barriers that hold them back. Someone who holds a master’s in sports psychology can work with athletic teams to counsel players and help them achieve greater results. This degree also sets the stage for PhD level work and certification through the Association for Applied Sports Psychology.

What to Look for in an Online Sports Psychology Program

As you look for a sports psychology degree program, you will need to learn how to evaluate these programs to find the one that best fits your needs. The first consideration is the type of degree offered. While some schools will offer direct sports psychology graduate programs, others will offer degrees in coaching or administration that include a psychology track or component. Decide which option best fits your career goals.

Next, look at the faculty that presents the program. Ask about their qualifications. You should find a school that offers a program with both psychology professionals and coaching professionals. This combination will give you a well-rounded education in sports psychology.

With online education, location is not a major factor. However, if you are able to find an online program in the state where you live, you may save money on tuition. This aspect is worth considering, but it should not be a primary motivator.

Cost is always a factor to consider. You can get a quality education at an affordable cost by choosing online sports psychology programs and using scholarship opportunities through the school and private organizations.

Finally, the courses covered are worth considering. While there are some standard courses, like applied sports psychology or ethics in coaching, across most of these programs, others are specific to a particular school. Once you have narrowed down your options to a couple of schools, take a look at the courses in their program to make your final decision.

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Top 7 Sports Psychology Masters Programs Online

If you feel that a career in sports psychology will work well for you and you need the flexibility of online study, finding the right program is important. By looking at the curriculum, affordability, online flexibility and faculty quality, you can find the best possible programs. These are the seven best sports psychology masters programs online that are available based on these factors.

Michigan State University

Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Sport Coaching, Leadership and Administration covers both sports psychology and the physiology and anatomy knowledge a successful coach needs. This fully online program has a 30 credit hour requirement with a $27,990 total estimated cost. This degree is designed for current coaches who wish to step into an intercollegiate capacity or who want to improve their leadership skills. Courses include the following topics:

  • Effective planning for coaching
  • Communication skills
  • Practice skills
  • Reducing injury risk
  • Sport science
  • Sports psychology
  • Sport pedagogy

This program requires a minimum of 20 months of study. Students must have relevant work experience in the athletic world to apply.

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri offers a Master of Education in Educational, School and Counseling Psychology with a Positive Coaching specialty. This degree is fully online and requires 30 credit hours to complete at a cost of $510.50 per credit hour. Courses are eight weeks in length and cover topics such as:

  • Sport and Applied Coaching Psychology
  • Positive Psychology
  • Positive Leadership in Sports
  • Ethics
  • Resiliency
  • Sport Performance

This unique program merges sports and coaching with positive psychology and education instruction. Graduates become more empathetic, resilient leaders who can guide their players toward mental success in their respective sports. Full-time students can complete the degree in one year. This program earned accolades from U.S. News & World Report as one of the best online programs for masters in education students.

University of Denver

University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology offers an online Master of Arts in Sport Coaching that blends sports science and psychology study into one comprehensive graduate degree. This program requires 46 quarter hours, which equals 36 traditional credit hours, and students can jump in at any one of the four quarters. It can take just five academic quarters to complete the degree, depending on how many courses a student takes per quarter. Courses in this program include:

  • Psychology of athletic performance
  • Sports research
  • Sport pedagogy
  • Strength and conditioning
  • Sports administration
  • Ethics and philosophy of sport coaching

This program costs $766 per quarter credit hour, which is half of the cost of the school’s on-campus programs.

University of Florida

University of Florida’s Master of Science in Sport Management – High-Performance Coaching covers coaching and sport psychology topics and requires 36 credit hours to complete. This program has Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists certification. High-Performance Coaching track students will touch on topics like:

  • Behavioral profiling
  • The science of winning
  • Sports ethics
  • Creating winning sports environments
  • Sports sociology
  • Training high performance athletes

This program costs $585.75 per credit hour. Students must take at least six credit hours in the fall and spring semesters for this program to apply for any financial aid.

Ohio University

Ranked fourth in the Most Affordable Online Sport Psychology Programs list and number one in the Best Online Master’s in Physical Education list, the Master’s in Coaching Education Online from Ohio University provides a well-rounded introduction to sports psychology as it relates to coaching. This degree spans 30 credits and takes approximately five semesters to complete. It features a curriculum built around the national standards for sports coaches that covers topics like:

  • Skill acquisition
  • Leadership in sport
  • Psychology of coaching
  • Conditioning and injury prevention
  • Ethics and diversity

Students pay $508 per credit hour with a non-resident fee of $19 per credit hour for non-Ohio residents. Ohio University is well-known for its strong soccer program, so soccer coaches may appreciate this program specifically as it relates to their sport, though the education applies to coaches in all disciplines.

Lock Haven University

Lock Haven University offers an Online Master of Science in Sport Science with a Sport & Exercise Psychology Track. This track includes courses that the Certification Council of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology has approved. This 30-credit program offers flexibility to complete in one calendar year for full-time students. Students in the Sport & Exercise Psychology Track complete 15 credit hours in their track, which include a capstone project. They also have six elective credits. This program was ranked third in the nation for affordability. Courses include topics like:

  • Sports psychology
  • Ethics and standards for sports
  • Counseling skills
  • Sports science
  • Diversity and culture
  • Mentoring in sports

Tuition for Pennsylvania residents in this online program is $516 per credit hour plus fees. Non-resident students pay about $250 more per credit hour.

Florida State University

Florida State University has a Masters of Education in Athletic Coaching. This fully online program comes from the only center for athletic coaching in the United States, and the school built it from scratch with the help of the university’s current and past coaches. The program requires 30 credit hours to complete, which can be done in as little as three semesters. Coursework covers topics such as:

  • Research in sports and coaching
  • Sport and exercise psychology
  • Theory and practice of coaching
  • Philosophy and ethics of coaching
  • Sociology of sports

This program costs $1,075.66 per credit hour for out-of-state students, but they offer an Athletic Coaching Scholarship to the first ten applicants each semester of $400 per credit hour.

Benefits of a Sports Psychology Online Master’s Degree

Earning a sports psychology online master’s degree has multiple benefits for students. These include the following:

Flexible Education Option

First, an online sports psychology degree allows a student to study on a schedule that fits their needs. Adults who are already working in coaching or other sports-related fields can study when they are not at work, and this makes it possible to continue working while earning a degree. The flexibility of online education also means a student can attend a school based on the program’s merits, not location.

Foundation for PhD Work

A master’s in sports psychology sets the stage for PhD level work in this field. If you are interested in pioneering research into sports psychology or earning certification from the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, then this degree is the jumping-off point.

Option to Work at a Higher Level

A master’s degree is the minimum degree required to work as a coach at the college level. Coaches interested in coaching professionally also benefit from master’s level work or even a doctorate, but the master’s degree program will start that path.

Affordable Graduate Level Work

Many schools offer discounts for online master’s degree programs. In addition, when you study online, you do not have to pay room and board and other campus-related fees. This affordability may make it possible to obtain your degree more quickly.

What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology?

A master’s degree in sports psychology opens the door to many career and educational options. These career options include counseling, coaching and research.

Many sports psychology graduates will move into coaching or training programs for their careers. The knowledge gained in their graduate work will help them assist their players with mental barriers. Psychology training also helps coaches build solid team dynamics with their players.

Sometimes sport psychology graduates will work in clinics. They may counsel athletes who have had injuries and are in rehabilitation programs. They can assist physical therapists in helping the athlete come back stronger after their injury. They can also work with non-athletes in high-stress jobs to help them learn to manage the physical and mental toll that stress takes on them.

Research in sports psychology is another role these graduates may take on. This is particularly true if they move into a doctorate program, as these are typically heavily research-based. The foundation of the master’s degree program will set the stage for solid research.

Sports Psychology Master’s Degree Salary and Job Outlook

The American Psychological Association indicates a growing demand for sport psychologists. They are vital to the professional and college sports worlds, and many other fields with high-stress jobs and physically demanding work are realizing the benefits of sports psychologists. The APA indicates that a growing number of these employers are hiring sports psychologists to help their team members manage their stress and the physical work of their jobs.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track sports psychologists specifically, but it does track all psychology fields. From 2021 to 2031, the demand for psychologists is expected to increase by 6%, which is as fast as average, with a median pay of $81,040 a year. Those in the top 10 percent of wage earners among psychologists can expect to earn over $133,000 a year. Payscale does list median salaries for sports psychologists, and based on 2022 data, that median was $76,266 a year.

Not all sports psychology graduates work in psychology. Many work as coaches, and the BLS does track salary and job outlook data for athletic coaches and scouts. The expected growth from 2021 to 2031 for this role is 20%, which is much faster than average. Coaches who work in colleges and universities can earn around $48,710 a year on average, with the highest 10 percent earning $80,720 based on BLS data. However, successful coaches can land contracts in the million-dollar range depending on the budget and success of the school and its sports programs.

How Much Does an Online Sports Psychology Master’s Program Cost?

The cost of an online sports psychology master’s program varies significantly from one program to the next. The average cost per credit hour is between $450 and $1,000, and these programs take between 30 and 36 credit hours to complete. This means the total cost is between $13,500 and $36,000, and many schools have some fees on top of the tuition cost.

Admissions Requirements

Each school will have specific admissions requirements for its graduate students in online sports psychology programs. All programs require successful completion of a bachelor’s degree program, and many have minimum GPA requirements as well between 2.75 and 3.00. Regional accreditation in the program is often necessary, and many schools will require the undergraduate degree to be in coaching, sports, psychology or education.

Sports psychology is a field that sometimes requires work experience for graduate-level work. Working in athletics or coaching can fulfill this. Always check the school’s admissions requirements to see if this is a requirement.

Letters of recommendation are common admissions requirements for master’s degrees in sports psychology. Ask people who have seen you working in sports or psychology roles to write these letters. Fellow coaches with more experience than the applicant or school administrators are good choices to write this letter. A professor from the applicant’s undergraduate degree program could be a good choice as well.

Finally, many schools require graduate students to pass the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. This exam indicates whether or not a student is ready to do work at the graduate level. A minimum score may be part of the admissions requirements.

Common Courses in a Sports Psychology Online Master’s Program

The coursework in online master’s programs for sports psychology will cover a variety of psychology and sports topics. Some common courses seen in these programs include:

  • Ethics and Sport – Ethics in the coaching world is becoming an increasingly important topic as more and more coaching professionals find themselves accused of everything from performance enhancing drugs used by their players to inappropriate relationships with their players, and these classes will address common ethical concerns the modern coach faces.
  • Stress Management – Athletes face a tremendous amount of stress, both mentally and physically. This type of course will teach sports psychologists and coaches how to teach their athletes healthy ways to manage that stress.
  • Counseling Skills – Counseling skills courses with a focus on sports are common in these programs. Sports psychologists often find themselves in the role of counselor, making these courses vital to their success.
  • Psychology in Sports or Coaching – The psychology of sports and athletics is fairly specific to the industry. This course will look at psychological principles and how they apply to coaching and athletics. Nearly every sports psychology program will have a course in this.
  • Applied Exercise Sciences – Because sports psychology majors often work as coaches, these programs may include some exercise science coursework. This will help the coaches with the athletic side of their work in addition to the psychological and counseling side.
  • Sociology and Sports – Courses that connect sociology, which is the study of human behavior and interaction, with the world of sports are common and helpful in this field. These courses may include topics about cultural aspects of sports and diversity within the athletic world.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Sports Psychology Master’s Program Online?

Most masters programs in sports psychology are 30 credit hours long. The length of time it takes to complete will depend on how many credit hours per semester a student is able to take. If they take a full-time load, most students can complete this degree in three semesters. If they take a summer semester, then they can complete it in one calendar year. Part-time students may take two to two-and-a-half years to complete the full program. Those enrolled in a 36-hour program may need a little more time to complete their degrees.

Certifications and Licensure

Master’s degree programs in sports psychology do not require certification or licensure for students to apply. However, successfully completing this degree program may open the door to certifications that help you in your job search.

There are two main certifications to apply for after completing a degree in sports psychology. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology offers a Certified Mental Performance Consultant certification. This requires a master’s or doctoral degree in sport science or psychology. Some related fields that include the organization’s required courses can also qualify a student to apply for this certification.

The American Board of Sport Psychology also offers certification. Students who have a master’s degree and have obtained licensed professional status or Board certification in Sport Psychology for Coaches can apply, but many applicants carry a doctorate in psychology. However, a master’s degree in sport psychology is a good starting point on the road map toward Board Certified Sport Psychologist status. This certification also requires 750 hours of study, research or work experience and the completion of a practicum in Applied Sport Psychology.

Scholarships for Sport Psych Master’s Students

Financial aid is possible for sports psychology master’s students. The first step in receiving financial aid is to fill out the FAFSA. This will determine a student’s financial aid needs and whether or not they qualify for government aid and loan programs. Another way to save money is to go to a school with an in-state tuition discount. This can lower the credit hour cost significantly.

After finishing the FAFSA, students should contact the financial aid department of their school, as many schools have in-school scholarship and grant programs. Students can also search for psychology-specific scholarships on the American Psychological Association’s search page and the free search through the US Department of Labor.

When applying for scholarships in this field, students may need minimum GPA information from their undergraduate work. They may also need work experience in coaching, as well as the ability to write a strong essay outlining their need for continuing education. Some scholarships in sports psychology are research-based, so students will need to commit to taking part in the research project that funds the scholarship.

Sports psychology can be a rewarding career path for those passionate about helping athletes achieve their full potential. These sports psychology masters programs online make it convenient and affordable to pursue this degree and move forward with your career goals.

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